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The Masks of the Political God by Luca Ozzano

When Euroscepticism Meets Populism: Emotions and the 2016 British EU Referendum

Contentious Politics
Simona Guerra
University of Surrey
Simona Guerra
University of Surrey
Theofanis Exadaktylos
University of Surrey
Roberta Guerrina
University of Bristol

This analysis examines the emotions that have been moved by the 2016 British EU referendum campaign. By using a political sociological approach, we examine the affective experiences and the social and political debates that led to the Leave vote and beyond. A survey conducted two weeks after the vote and a representative sample of 1,707 British citizens underline a deep sense of uncertainty. While studies generally examine the confluence of populism and Euroscepticism at the party level (Pirro et al. 2018), we stress the emergence of emotions and how these affect attitudes and behaviours. When we look at the open answers on the reasons for voting Remain and Leave, it becomes clear that the Remain campaign seemed not to gain momentum, while the Leave campaign, combining both Euroscepticism and populism, succeeded in evoking a higher emotional response amongst the citizens. As already highlighted by Capelos and Exadaktylos (2017: 87) at ‘the juncture of emotions and cognition lies the feeling of institutional, political and social trust.’ This requires a more detailed analysis of emotions. Emotions have emerged and can persist throughout the negotiation process, where social and political engagement is significant to maintain trust towards institutions and political actors, while life satisfaction, well-being and happiness seem to be stalling with a very little increase in England after Brexit (Partington 2017). Still, after two years, those identifying mostly as English are more and more willing to leave the EU. Overall the result of the June 2016 referendum has led the country to uncertainty, anxiety and apprehension, and this study offers an original analysis of the success and outcomes of combining Euroscepticism and populism at the mass level.
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